Elevate Difference

Wherever There's a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California

On June 16th, 2008 Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin made headlines as the first same-sex couple legally married in the state of California. The couple, who first met in the ‘50s, spent the majority of their adult lives advocating for equal rights for homosexual couples and lived to see their goal realized. Although Californians have fought the battle for same-sex marriage most visibly in the past ten years, activists such as Lyon and Martin have been addressing the issue of discrimination against homosexuals in California for several decades. Lyon and Martin’s story is just one of the many civil rights struggles highlighted in Wherever There’s a Fight, an anthology of activism in the Golden State.

Each story carries with it a delightful tinge of tension, and as I read I found myself anxiously awaiting to hear how ordinary citizens had confronted their various struggles. Elinson and Yogi, both writers with close professional ties to the California ACLU, document civil liberties struggles from abortion rights to workers rights to the right to dissent. The stories demonstrate how many Californians became lifelong activists after fighting for rights that so vitally affected their access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Ed Roberts was such a person. Roberts was infected with polio as a boy, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. After his mother lobbied the local school board to allow her son to graduate high school (the principal had denied Roberts a diploma because he was unable to complete the district’s physical education and drivers education requirements) Roberts decided he would attend college to secure a meaningful livelihood. In 1962 he became the first severely disabled student admitted to the University of California at Berkeley, although the administration was unaware when they admitted him that the straight-A student was disabled. Thus began a fight for equal access and protection that Roberts would fight for the rest of his life that made California into the birthplace of the disability rights movement in the United States.

As the fight for civil rights becomes more visible, and more progress is gained, perhaps a second edition of this wonderful book will include some exciting new stories. I can’t wait!

Written by: Janice Formichella, January 13th 2010